With an average annual rainfall of 34 inches in Northeastern Illinois (which includes the Aux Sable Creek watershed) there is a lot of rainwater that gets “wasted” as we shed it like a waste product. Our roofs waste 100% of the water that falls on them.  Rainwater is a precious resource that can be collected and saved for later use.  Rain barrels or cisterns are ways to accomplish that.  The use of rain barrels and cisterns goes back hundreds of years, but they are still a great way to harvest rainwater for later use.  It seems many agree because from 2005-2008, The Conservation Foundation has sold 3,000 rain barrels!

Keep in mind that the average rain barrel is about 55 gallons. A quarter-inch of rain falling on the average home yields over 200 gallons of water! It is estimated that during the hot summer months, 40% of the average homeowner’s water consumption is in the yard.  Therefore, capturing rainwater for use later, particularly for your yard, is not only good for the environment but also for your pocketbook.  This helps conserve tap water for use as drinking water only, reducing water shortages in the future.

Rain barrels are easy to install

Let’s get started.  Here’s a list of materials you will need to install your ready-to-use rain barrel (that’s a barrel that already has the spigot, screen and overflow hole installed):

    • Hacksaw
    • Measuring tape
    • 2 downspout elbows or a flexible downspout extender*

It is a good idea to put your rain barrel up on a platform made from concrete blocks or other appropriate materials. The height increases the water pressure if you want to use a hose.  It also provides room to put a bucket or watering can under the spigot.  Once you get it up on the platform, measure and cut the downspout. Downspouts can be cut with a hacksaw. (Keep the portion you cut off for reattachment in the winter.) Use two elbows or a flexible downspout extender attachment* to direct the water to the top of the barrel. The end of the downspout should be about 2-3” above the top of the barrel.  A downspout diverter is a useful option for some, click here for one site offering this item.

The Conservation Foundation supplies ready-to-use rain barrels, holds education seminars and can answer any of your questions.  For more information about rain barrels, contact Jim Kleinwachter at 630-428-4500.

More Fun with Rain Barrels

Decorating rain barrels is fun and easy.  Local programs and contests are emerging.  In 2008, both Lisle and Geneva featured Rain Barrels on Parade.  After displaying the barrels over the summer, Geneva auctioned them returning proceeds to “green” projects within their municipality.  This blog has a number of the Geneva rain barrels.  Geneva is repeating the program in Summer 2009.  Visit their downtown to see the rain barrels.

To the side are some examples from a July 2008 program in Dane County, WI (Madison area) where area artists donated their time, talent and tools to create spectacular works of art which were also functioning rain barrels. These pieces were auctioned to benefit Sustain Dane's on-going work in the community to promote sustainability. (Photos taken by Lori Compas Photography.)



Rain Barrels








Pond Critters by Janet Zanck
Artist's Statement: Wisconsin water creatures (bluegill, large mouth bass, minnows, snails, bull frog, tadpoles and a turtle) are presented in a fanciful fashion swirling around the barrel.









Prairie Garden by Peggy Timmerman
Artist's statement: Much of my work focuses on environmental themes. I also own a prairie remnant and am doing prairie restoration, so this project was a way to depict some of my favorite plants, many of which would be appropriate in a rain garden.